Review: Heavy Fire: Red Shadow

by

Developer: Anshar Studios/Mastiff LLC
Publisher: Mastiff LLC
Platform: PC(Steam), PS4, Xbox One
Price: $19,99 USD for base game, $9.99 for VR Mode DLC
Release Date: October 16th, 2018
Virtual Reality Compatibility:: HTC, Oculus, PSVR

The early days of VR game development saw a lot of rail and stationary shooters. Not only because it was an easy to learn and play experience but also because VR headsets were too expensive for home ownership. Those days are slowly being put behind us now, thanks in part to Sony willing to market and sell PSVRs at a low entry price point. Despite this, shooting galleries still haven’t fallen out of taste with developers.

This review has been based on the PS4 version of the game, running on a regular PS4 Slim and using PSVR. As with every PSVR game, screenshots are captures of the social screen TV feed, meaning that the game actually appears much better inside the headset. If you are a fortunate owner of a PS4Pro unit, expect much better anti-aliasing while playing.

Shipyard Level

Story

The plot leading up to the game is told in in four cutscenes, inserted each before one of the game’s levels. The plot essentially boils down to the Korean peninsula unifying and collectively attacking the U.S. base in Guam. The story doesn’t matter at any point in the game though as every level is the same except with different geography. The enemies doesn’t even speak or yell in Korean, they just shoot or run toward you screaming.

Gameplay

The gameplay was obviously built for a VR experience, the flatscreen mode being added as an afterthought to the game. The player sits at a stationary gun position at a vantage point and must shoot down every enemy wave that the game throws at you. The standard way of play rotates the gun around the player but not the view, meaning you must physical spin around in the real world to shoot to the sides or back. The game has a setting that allows you to fix the view centered on the gun’s aim sights but I found that playing the game like this was extremely uncomfortable. Less VR accustomed players would feel ill immediately and it’s really difficult to aim.

Player perspective looking down.

When describing an “arcade game”, this can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. In Heavy Fire: Red Shadow, the gameplay is arcadey because it really does feel like a 21th century iteration of a classic shooting gallery. There’s nothing you need to really worry about except shooting down all targets in the most optimal and efficient way.

Besides your main machine gun, there are three other game elements you need to keep your eyes on during gameplay. The first one is your rocket launcher, a powerful area damage weapon with limited ammunition. Secondly, killing enemies will slowly fill up a special skill meter, which is used for requesting backup fire and supplies. Finally, completing small tasks during the game earns experience towards levels, used to purchase upgrade perks to your weapons.

Out of the five possible support options, I feel that only three were actually useful. Supply Crate drops are necessary because you cannot kill all enemies in a level with just the starting amount of rockets, infantry support is great for holding back enemies from surrounding your turret and Helicopter support essentially spawns an AI that helps gun down all threats. Artillery and Air Strike essentially just blast a strip of land in front of you, except the really troublesome threats are usually on the sides, completely immune to these attacks.

Upgrade perks improve your game in many major ways. Improve your health, improve damage, improve explosive power of rockets, improves infantry and support attack strikes and, most importantly, improves the efficiency of Supply Crate airdrops. Gaining skill points requires you to effectively complete side missions during enemy waves. These missions are time limited and require simple tasks such as “Kill 12 enemies”, “Kill 3 enemies of a specific type”, “Destroy a vehicle” or “Don’t get hit by a Kamikaze attack”. Unfortunately, side missions can sometimes be impossible to complete, as the game may issue you one by the time that there aren’t enough enemies left or task you with killing enemies with rockets when you don’t have any remaining.

Sound

The game has generic music playing in the background but it might as well not have any. Gameplay is essentially just machine gun sounds non-stop while your enemies and allies are also firing at you and at one another. Standard use of stock sound effects not even worth discussing about. The scenery around and above the play area is full of non-gameplay elements, giving an artificial sense that you are just a small part of a larger defense force.

Graphics

Despite being obviously a very small budget game it looks surprisingly good, the developer being quite a veteran company after all. The game is at its best during night cycles when you can easily discern the colors and enemy contrast is sharp. One thing I thought was missing was the complete lack of tracer rounds in my machine gun. You don’t actually see the any of your shots, instead enemies in the center of your aim sight just seem to drop dead without any force or impact. This was perhaps the #1 issue I had with the game as it killed any sense of satisfaction I could have had while gunning down enemies.

Downsides

Four stages leaves the game at 3 to 4 hours of gameplay at best. Despite this, the game costs a whooping $20 dollars on PSN, with an additional $10 for VR mode. This is utterly ridiculous and not worth a purchase at all. On top of that there just isn’t enough content here to justify dropping $30 bucks on a game when the PSVR catalogue is already full of much better games at this point.

Red Shadow features a bunch of obtuse design decisions that I can’t find justification for. Worse yet, the game appears to have had little play testing, as I often ran into situation where an enemy wave would not end because the last remaining enemy is stuck behind an object I cannot shoot through. This happened multiple times during my single playthrough and it has frustrated me greatly.

Overall

Despite being a fun little shooter with rather accurate aiming, the steep price point and several small issues left a sour taste. It would’ve been okay as an actual arcade shooter but I honestly expected much better out of a home console release. It’s about time developers dropped this sort of short, cheap and shallow VR game experience in favor of more mature game design choices.

Heavy Fire: Red Shadow

Heavy Fire: Red Shadow

4.3

Final Grade

4/10

    Pros

    • Graphics are okay
    • No VR sickness
    • Accurate controls

    Cons

    • No Aim Support
    • Buggy
    • Way too expensive
    • Not immersive at all